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Viola Davis wins best supporting actress Oscar for role as wronged wife 'Fences'

Davis was previously nominated for two Oscars for her work in the movies 'The Help' and 'Doubt.' She stars in the best picture nominee 'Fences' with actor Denzel Washington.

'Fences' stars Viola Davis (r.) and Denzel Washington (l.).
David Lee/Paramount Pictures/AP | Caption

Viola Davis has won the Oscar for best supporting actress for her work in the film adaptation of the classic August Wilson play “Fences.” 

Ms. Davis portrayed Rose Maxson, wife of Troy (Denzel Washington) and mother to Cory (Jovan Adepo). The story takes place in 1950's Pittsburgh. 

The film, which is also nominated for Oscars including best picture, best actor for Mr. Washington, and best adapted screenplay, and was directed by Washington, stars many of the actors who portrayed the same roles in the 2010 Broadway revival, including Washington and Davis. 

Davis has previously been nominated for two Oscars, one for the best actress prize for starring in 2011’s “The Help” and one for best supporting actress for her work in the 2008 movie “Doubt.” She currently stars on the ABC Shonda Rhimes drama “How to Get Away with Murder.” 

Davis told NPR that she wanted to portray Rose’s journey over the course of the story as Rose’s situation grows darker.

“I just really wanted to create a portrait of a woman….,” she said. “You see age has affected her, but you still see the smile; you see a little bit of the lipstick; you see a woman who is not downtrodden. It was very important for me to create an entire and specific portrait of a woman, so by the time everything is taken away, it really is taken away. You really feel the trauma ... and I could have only gotten to that level if I would have had something to lose.” 

(Spoilers follow for the film “Fences”…)

As the plot of “Fences” unfolds, Davis’s character, Rose, discovers her husband has been unfaithful. “There are a lot of women like that who stay,” Davis said of Rose's decisions in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter

“We all are doing the best we can,” she added. “I would like to say that I'm a walking poster board for feminism and women's liberation, but there are things that I do in my life that deeply, deeply fall short of being a statement for being a strong woman. I am flawed as much as anyone else. Once again: choices. This is not a woman who has $5,000 in the bank.” 

But her portrayal of those choices – and their costs – grabbed critics' attention this winter.

"The acting is all superb," wrote Variety's Owen Gleiberman. "At the moment Troy’s selfishness is fully revealed, Viola Davis delivers a monologue of tearful, scalding, nose-running agony that shows you one woman’s entire reality breaking down. For a few shattering moments, when she talks about her family of half-brothers and half-sisters, it drags the fallout from America’s racist past right into the glaring light of the present."